Talk about separation anxiety! Maggie, a goldendoodle puppy, couldn’t be left alone for a second. If her owners had to go out and put her in her crate, she would shred her blanket, then urinate on it. When they returned, she refused to eat just to make sure they got the message.
Ozzie, a bichon-terrier mix, was fond of digging up flower beds and jumping on people. Louie, a giant dachshund, liked to throw his weight around (all 30 pounds of it), terrorizing the two mini dachshunds in the household. All of these dogs exhibited common behavioral problems which were quickly resolved with just a few training sessions. However, it wasn’t the dogs that needed to be trained. It was their owners.
“When dogs misbehave, owners yell and scream at them,” says Jane Brydon, CPDT (Certified Professional Dog Trainer). “This will frighten them, and it won’t get the response you desire.” Brydon, who holds a degree in Animal Behavior and has worked at the Philadelphia Zoo and Schuykill Valley Nature Center, champions a positive, reward-based approach which involves training all members of the family, as well as the pooch.
Working with Maggie’s owners, Rita and Doug Flieder of Narberth, Pa., Brydon showed them how to make their puppy feel more secure inside her crate. “We now give Maggie all her meals inside the crate, leaving the door open,” says Rita. “Jane also suggested that our son Jonny, whom Maggie was nipping, serve all her meals so she”ll develop a positive association with him. He doesn’t just feed her out of a bowl, he feeds her out of his hand to establish a good relationship.”
Brydon also worked with the Flieders to tone down Maggie’s “rambunctious” personality and train her to go to a neutral corner when the doorbell rings. In training sessions, Brydon used a combination of a clicker and treats. The clicker is used whenever the dog exhibits the desired behavior, immediately followed by the reward of a treat, usually a tiny piece of hot dog. “Eventually, I”ll cut back on the clicker and treats and Maggie will respond to verbal commands,” Rita says. Maggie is still a highly social animal. “We have a fenced-in yard, but Maggie won’t go out to play unless a family member is with her,” adds Doug.
Sam and Lynn Scott of Bryn Mawr, Pa., were referred to Brydon by Dogma Dog Spa, in Wayne, which keeps Ozzie, their bichon mix, in style. The Scotts immediately took to Brydon’s system of reward for Ozzie, whom they describe as “a mop without a handle.” “It’s amazing how logic enters into this,” says Sam. “Dogs are like 2-year-olds. If you give them a treat, they”ll keep doing the right thing.”
The right thing in Ozzie’s case was staying away from the flower beds and not fighting for attention every time Lynn was on the phone. “Jane taught us just to turn our backs and walk away. It works! She is teaching us to be good parents to our dog,” remarks Sam.
If three dachshunds sounds just one clown short of a circus, just ask Wally and Barbara Hayman of Gladwyne. Their extended family includes Henry, a dappled mini dachshund, Daisy, a long-haired mini, and Louie, a giant red standard. “These guys are very stubborn,” says Wally of the three hounds who displayed more behavior problems than the average kindergarten. “I’ve had many dogs of different breeds and never had trouble house-breaking them, but these dachshunds were tough to train.”
So why get three?
“They’re like pistachios. Once you have one, you’ve got to have another,” admits Wally. “Jane explained that she needed to come to our house and see the conditions that were causing the dogs to behave badly, how they respond to their own environment.” Oddly enough, Louie, the bully of the pack, was a fast learner. “He really got it and so did we,” Wally says.
Brydon recalls being hired by the owner of a lavish Montgomery County estate to train a 10-week-old puppy who wasn’t housebroken. The owner requested that Brydon work with the housekeeper because the owner didn’t have time during the week to participate in training sessions. “I knew that the owner was a very busy man, but my philosophy is that owners have to be involved for the training to succeed. So I came up with a solution.” Brydon video-taped her daily training sessions with the housekeeper and the dog on basic commands: sit, lie down, come when called, and walk on a leash. After working with the housekeeper for several days, Brydon scheduled a training session with the owner on a Sunday; he had had the benefit of the video sessions, which he loved.
Not that long ago, the standard response to a dog having an “accident” in the house was to, literally, rub his nose in it and hit him with a rolled-up newspaper. Brydon, who has owned a menagerie of pets, including Rottweilers, English Bull Terriers, Chihuahuas, an African Grey parrot, and a cat or two, explains why this kind of training is futile. “Punishment just frightens your dog. It doesn’t have the cognitive ability to figure out why you are yelling and hitting. The dog sees you are angry but it doesn’t know why,” Brydon says. “Punishment works as much as beating a child; you get the behavioral issues that come with it.”
In the old days, if you wanted a dog to sit, you used a choke collar and pulled the chain, so the dog’s head would come up and its bottom would go down as it was being strangled. The reward was the release of the choke collar. The positive method Brydon uses involves holding a small treat over the dog’s nose. “As you bring the treat back over the dog’s head, his bottom automatically goes down, at which point you say ‘YES” and put the treat in his mouth,” explains Brydon. “It’s more important to reward your dog for doing something right, than punish him for doing something wrong.”
When you’re trying to have a phone conversation and your dog is barking and desperately competing for your attention, what then? “Turn your back,” instructs Brydon. “Your dog wants attention. If you refuse to give it to him, he”ll stop whatever he’s doing, be it barking or jumping up on you.” While this might not work with a tantrum-throwing child, it gets positive results from the canine set.
What about the older dog with behavioral problems? The one you were stuck with when the kids—who begged for a puppy—went off to college. Or a mature dog you adopted because its owner died or can no longer care for it. “Older dogs can be trained,” Brydon says. When she herself adopted Stevie Wonderful, a 3-year-old, blind Chihuahua-Sheltie mix, she couldn’t even pick him up. “Stevie had been abused and was terrified. He needed to adapt to a new environment which included a Rotteweiler and a precocious Chihuahua-Jack Russell mix.” The tiny blind dog expressed his fear by biting.
So: “I became the bearer of wonderful things, toys filled with peanut butter, little pieces of hot dog,” Brydon says. “Within a month, I could pick Stevie up. Now he’s devoted to me.”
With the availability of group dog-training classes, how do you know when you need to hire a personal dog training coach? “If you’ve tried training your dog yourself or attending group classes and you are still getting upset with your dog’s behavior, it’s time to get a professional trainer,” Brydon says.
But do your homework and check the trainer’s certification, methodology, and background. The trainer should work not just with your dog but with you, or your dog will revert to bad behaviors. Brydon usually meets with dogs and their owners for a one-and-a-half- hour session, then follows it up with three one-hour sessions. What if you or your dog revert to “bad behavior”? Take a refresher course!
In May 2010, Brydon opened The Cottage Small Dog Daycare Center in Glen Mills, Pa. The Center provides day and overnight care for small dogs, weighing less than twenty pounds, as well as training for dogs (and owners) of all sizes.